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170                                                                                                            B- POLEVOI
of the old soldier who is accustomed to regard the place
where his kit-bag" is, and where his soap-box and tooth-
brush are on the shelf over the wash-stand, as his home.
He brought a great deal of boisterous cheerfulness into
the ward and did it in such a way that nobody took
offence and he made everybody feel that they had known
him for years. Everybody took a liking to the new-comer,
except that Meresyev was rather repelled by his obvious
weakness for the opposite sex, which, incidentally, he
made no attempt to conceal, and on which he dilated on
the slightest pretext.
Next day the Commissar's funeral took place.
Meresyev, Kukushkin and Gvozdev sat on the sill of
the window facing the courtyard and saw the team of
artillery horses haul in the heavy gun-carriage, saw the
brass band line up, their instruments glistening in the
sun, and saw a military unit march in. Klavdia Mikhai-
lovna came into the ward and ordered the patients to
leave the window. She was, as usual, quiet and energetic,
but Meresyev noticed that her voice trembled as she
spoke. She had come to take the new patient's tempera-
ture, but at that moment the band struck up a funeral
march. The nurse turned pale, the thermometer dropped
from her hands and tiny, shining balls of mercury rolled
about the parquet floor. Klavdia Mikhailovna ran out of
the ward hiding her face in her hands.
"What's the matter with her? Was he her sweetheart?"
asked Struchkov, nodding in the direction of the window
from which the strains of mournful music came.
Nobody answered him.
Leaning out of the window, they all gazed at the open
red coffin on the gun-carriage as it emerged from the
Sates into the street. Amidst a mass of wreaths and
owers lay the body of the Commissar. Behind the gun-
carriage men were carrying his decorations pinned on
cushions—one, two, five, eight. Generals marched behind
with bowed heads. Among them was Vasily Vasilyevich,
also in a general's greatcoat, but, for some reason, bare-
headed. And then, at a little distance from the rest, in
front of the slowly marching soldiers, came Klavdia Mi-
khailovna, bare-headed, in her white smock, stumbling,
and evidently not seeing what was in front of her. At